On March 11, 2022, President Biden announced that the United States, acting in coordination with the European Union (“EU”) and leaders of major economies belonging to the Group of Seven (“G7”), would begin taking steps to revoke most-favored-nation (or “MFN”) trade status for Russia. MFN trade status—known as Permanent Normal Trade Relations (“PNTR”) status in the United States—is a term used to describe the nondiscriminatory treatment granted among most of the world’s trading partners. Days after the President’s address, on March 16, the House passed to formally revoke PNTR for Russia, and also stripping Belarus of MFN treatment. The bill now moves to the Senate, where timing for its consideration is uncertain.
MFN status is a fundamental principle in the international trading system established under the World Trade Organization (“WTO”), and as a general rule, WTO Members are required to accord MFN status to all other WTO Members. Having acceded to the WTO in 2012, Russia is generally entitled to MFN treatment by other WTO Members. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, several other WTO Members have joined the United States, the EU, and the G7 in stating an intent to revoke MFN treatment for Russia, invoking an “essential security” exception that permits WTO-inconsistent measures where a Member considers such measures to be “necessary for the protection of its essential security interests.” Statements issued by the White House and G7 Leaders emphasized the coordinated nature of the initiative across economies, and the intent to continue to pursue additional collective action to deny Russia the benefits of WTO membership.
While certain G7 countries, such as Canada, have already withdrawn Russia’s trade benefits by means of executive action, revocation of Russia’s PNTR status in the United States will require congressional action. While the House has passed a bill to do so, specific timing for consideration of that legislation in the Senate is still unknown. A revocation of Russia’s MFN status will increase tariff rates applicable to certain U.S. imports from Russia, and may also provoke Russia to take responsive, retaliatory actions against international firms. This alert provides background on Russia’s current trade status, analyzes congressional action to date on the issue, and describes the potential international trade implications for U.S. firms of a change in Russia’s trade status.
Background on Russia’s Trade Status
Under the principle of MFN treatment, WTO Members are required to treat imports of goods and services from any WTO Member as favorably as they treat the imports of like goods and services from any other WTO Member. In practice, this means that MFN treatment is the basic “non-discriminatory” treatment to which all WTO Members are generally entitled. Russia has been accorded MFN treatment by most major economies since it became a WTO Member in August 2012.
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